Food: The rice storm

There's just no excuse for ready-flavoured risotto when the real thing has never been easier

At the age of 11, my parents packed me off to a Catholic convent in Brussels, thinking I would emerge fluent in French. Unfortunately, the devout Catholic sisters, who endured long brooding silences of mystical contemplation, proved scarcely welcoming of my halting "J'aime bien le disco-dancing" level. I was hauled up in front of Mother Superior for referring to her as tu, for partaking of holy wafers without being confirmed, and failing to understand physics in French. I read Tolkein's complete works beneath the cover of my desk, in English.

In retrospect, though, it was comparative bliss, and also gave me my first taste of waffles, lager and risotto. Every Friday we fasted, which meant (even as a non-Catholic) you were ordered from your bed at the ungodly hour of 5am to pray in the chapel. It being a day of fast, there was no breakfast, but at lunchtime we were treated to a glass of beer and a soupy risotto. When all you had eaten was a holy wafer it was close to being manna from heaven.

Risottos fit in very well with the meatless substance required by devout clerics, and I am interested to see that at least one famous risotto - alla certosina, with shrimps and frogs - was created by the monks of the Certosa di Pavia, who were only allowed to eat meat on Sundays.

The risottos of my life have only improved, latterly with the added availability of carnaroli and vialone nano rice. The former is liege among risotto rices. When cooked it transforms into a mass of plump firm grains enveloped in a sticky embryonic cream. Vialone nano is more petite and refined. Would that the story ended there. In going to buy risotto rice yesterday (I'll name names here, as Sainsbury's, in Cromwell Road in London should be ashamed), I would happily have settled for any of the three risotto rices, but they had sold out. Instead, the shelves were filled with flavoured risotto rices, the likes of nero di seppia, quattro formaggio and spinaci. You really don't want to know what's in them. I fail to understand why Riso Gallo, which has so successfully provided the wherewithal for our love affair with the risotto, should risk ruining the relationship by introducing such aberrations.

The beauty of a risotto lies in the basic ingredients required in making it. There aren't many truly fancy risottos. They tend to increase in luxury with the quality of the rice, the stock - which should be fresh and clean - and the Parmesan, ideally grated from a chunk of parmigiano reggiano broken off from a block.

But this is to leave it sounding perfunctory, when in essence it should reek of sex appeal. Squid-ink risotto if it came in human form would be sparsely clad on a chaise longue. To anyone put off by its colour, or simply by the notion of consuming the bodily fluids of a cephalopod in the name of pleasure, I would urge you to close your eyes and taste it. I would be torn to name that or a Milanese saffron risotto as my all-time favourite. At the upper end of the scale, there is the extremely rare gilding of shaved truffle over the surface. We certainly never got that in the convent. How those clerics miss out.

Risotto with Chinese greens and Fontina, serves 4

The slight bitterness of Chinese greens marries a treat with the sweetness of rice and cheese in much the same way as spring greens.

300g choi sum or ung choi (water spinach), cut into 5-7cm lengths

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

50g unsalted butter

300g carnaroli or vialone nano rice

1.2 litres vegetable stock, seasoned with sea salt

150ml white wine

50g freshly grated Parmesan

75g fontina, diced

black pepper

Bring the stock to the boil in a small saucepan and keep it at a simmer throughout cooking the risotto. Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and sweat the onion until it is soft without allowing it to colour. Add the rice and toast it for about a minute, until it turns translucent. Add the wine, which will seethe. Once this has been absorbed, start to add the stock a couple of ladles at a time, waiting for each addition to be absorbed before adding any more. After 20-25 minutes, remove it from the heat while it is still on the soupy side and the rice is slightly firm to the bite.

Five minutes before the end of cooking the risotto, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic. After a moment of sizzling remove it and add the greens. Stir until the leaves wilt, then cover the pan and steam over a low heat for 2 minutes, stirring halfway through. Remove the lid and season the leaves. Stir the Parmesan, fontina and greens into the risotto, and season with black pepper

FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam